Thai human rights are in free fall; the ruling junta perceives human rights as a threat to national security. NCPO Order No. 13/2016 is the junta’s attempt to establish a full military regime, says Sunai Phasuk, advisor to Human Rights Watch Thailand.
In the few weeks since the junta issued NCPO Order No. 13/2016, giving the military a police-like power, the international community has condemned the junta and urged it to abolish the order as soon as possible.
This leads to the question of the significance of Order No. 13/2016. Why did the international community uniformly condemn it after a long silence? To find the answer, Prachatai interviewed Sunai Phasuk, advisor to Human Rights Watch (HRW) Thailand. Sunai pointed out that the order is an attempt by the junta to establish a military regime.
From an international perspective, what is the significance of NCPO Order No. 13/2016?
Sunai: It is a rare phenomenon for the Delegation of the European Union, the US Department of State, the Canadian Government, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), 6 international human rights organizations (the International Commission of Jurists, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, the Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA), the International Federation for Human Rights, and Fortify Rights) all to take a common stance against NCPO Order No. 13/2016. The order is an extension of the authority the military already gave itself under NCPO Order No. 3/2015. Both orders were issued by the authority of Article 44 of the Interim Charter.
In fact, Order No. 3/2015 is already really bad. When combined with Order No. 13/2016, it is now nearly impossible to check and investigate the military authorities’ abuse of power.
Looking in detail, we can see that Order No. 13/2016 grants soldiers the authority to arrest, investigate and detain any person without any judicial or legislative oversight mechanism.
Order No. 3/2015 only covers actions threatening so-called national security, including possession of weapons, defaming the royal institution and disobeying junta orders. It has already been interpreted in such a way as to justify the arrest of those who oppose the junta. However, Order No. 13/2016 is worse since it includes all kinds of crime, making Thailand a more intense military state. Thai military is increasingly expanding its control over the civilian justice system, in terms of both policing power and judicial power.
Why is the international community so concerned about Order No. 13/2016?
Actually, the international community has been concerned all along about Thailand’s political situation since the replacement of martial law with Order No. 3/2015 in 2015. The enactment of Order No. 13/2016 is even worse since it provides the military with powers equal to martial law. So Thailand is technically under martial law once again. This has drastically increased concerns among the international community that this could lead to further violations of human rights without any mechanism of checks and balance.
This phenomenon has never before happened in any Southeast Asian country. The concern of the international community right now is over what kind of law will be issued next, since the junta seems to have unlimited power without any checks or balance at all.
The junta said that the Order No. 13/2016 is necessary to uproot local mafias and dark influences. What do you think?
Local mafias and dark influences exist because of the lack of transparency in the legal enforcement process which can be solved by existing mechanisms. There is no need to introduce a military mechanism. Even in the deep south of Thailand, where there are insurgents almost everywhere, civilians never have to pass through military mechanisms or go to military courts.
Giving that local mafias are an issue of law enforcement, why does the junta need to create a new mechanism like this which could lead to further violations of human rights?
It is unsurprising that society and the international community would question the junta’s sincerity. The authorities nowadays already possess too much power. Enhancing their power even more will surely lead to the question whether the police and justice system of Thailand has totally failed to the point that a special mechanism becomes necessary. Of course, it hasn’t.
Why did the junta have to issue Order No. 13/2016 when it already has full power in its hands?
It might be the junta’s attempt to re-centralize power in order to establish a new regime or the ‘New Normal’ -- a regime where politics, the justice system and the legal system of the country are all in the hands of the military. If that’s the case, authoritarianism will take deep root in Thailand. This is not the path to democracy as the junta promised. It is actually the path to dictatorship.
Has HRW followed the effect of the Order on people? And what is it?
So far, we haven’t seen any practical effect of the Order on people but, according to the list of local mafias and dark influences attached to the Order, those who oppose the junta might be its main target. Community leaders and rights activists all are listed as local mafias and dark influences according to the Order. The junta is categorizing those who oppose the junta, in terms of both politics and national development, as mafias and dark influences, putting them under threat by the Order. Considering the upcoming referendum in August, there is a further concern that the Order will be increasingly used to prosecute the junta’s opponents.
Can international pressure reshape the junta’s behaviour?
I would like to ask the junta ‘when will you listen to them?’ It is more than obvious that the more the junta remains in power, the more Thailand becomes a state of human rights abuses. I hope that the uniform voice from the international community will make the junta realize what it should do. The countries that have raised concerns, including the EU countries, Canada and the US, all have long and strong diplomatic relations with Thailand. They are friends who care about Thailand but the question is when the junta will listen to them.
The response from the junta so far is to accuse the international community of believing one-sided information or only believing what lobbyists say.
The junta should learn from Myanmar. Myanmar is an illustration next door showing what Thailand would be like if more and more human rights abuses occur and a dictatorial regime is fully installed. The junta is taking Thailand into the same position as Myanmar used to be in, sanctioned by the international community. Nowadays, the situation in Thailand is not that severe so the junta should restore democracy as soon as possible.
Will the international community put economic sanctions on Thailand?
In fact, Thailand has missed out on various forms of international cooperation since the coup in 2014. All negotiations on economic agreements between Thailand and the EU are frozen. Plus, Thailand has been excluded from the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which various ASEAN countries have joined already. These are obvious negative results that the junta has brought about for Thailand. Added to the fact that Thailand is facing an economic crisis, it is more than necessary for Thailand to get into international economic cooperation as soon as possible. But instead of doing so, Thailand is isolating itself more and more, denying democracy. Also, the junta never sincerely tells the people how much Thailand has lost from not being a democratic country.
How does HRW evaluate Thailand’s human rights situation under the junta?
HRW once reported that Thailand’s human rights were in an unstoppable free fall since the coup in 2014. Added to the fact that Thailand is going to have the referendum, HRW foresees that political harassment against junta opponents will increase sharply.
Even HRW has been a victim of the junta’s harassment. Most obviously, our fanpage “Human Rights Watch Thailand” was shut down, citing national security. Publication of HRW’s annual report on the human rights situation, which we do regularly every year under every government, was banned. Other human rights organizations also face similar harassment. This means that the junta perceives human rights issues as a threat to national security. What kind of a regime perceives human rights as a threat? Of course, it is a dictatorship.
The junta is destroying fundamental rights and freedoms. We hardly see any roots of democracy left in Thai society because the junta has not only frozen all channels for democracy, but is continuously destroying it. This is not a zero-democratic situation, it is a democracy in deficit and it is getting worse day by day.